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Opening doors: CalCPA chair creates opportunity, focuses on diversity.

When Chris Yahng began his CPA career in 1976, Enron and WorldCom didn't exist, advertising was forbidden for CPAs, professional rules governed what a CPA firm could name itself--and only a small percent of CPAs were women or ethnic minorities.


"The profession is evolving," says Yahng, 2005-06 CalCPA chair. "Today, more than half of all practicing CPAs are women, as are 56 percent of those entering the profession." What's also encouraging is that "the ethnic make-up--the diversity of the profession--has also increased, particularly among younger CPAs." Yahng, a partner and co-founder of Oakland-based BAYCPA, is the first Asian-American to serve as CalCPA chair.

Yahng's journey to CalCPA chair began in China, and his initiatives for the coming year aim to help CalCPA cross cultural and ethnic borders by aligning CalCPA's leadership with the profession's growing ethnic diversity.

"I believe the CalCPA Council is not a true representation of CalCPA's membership," says Yahng. "While we have greater numbers of women and ethnic minorities filling the ranks of the profession than we did 30 years ago, we aren't seeing the corresponding shift into leadership positions."

To boost that representation, Yahng's ideas include reviving CalCPA's Leadership Institute and working more closely with individual chapters to identify and encourage future leaders.

"As chair, part of my position is to reinforce the message that CalCPA is not a closed book," he says. "During my term, I'll make many visits to individual chapters to encourage those at the beginning levels to start on a leadership path."

Yahng's own leadership path began in the turmoil of wartime China.


With World War II raging, Yahng--the third of four brothers--was literally born on the run in Yutu, a small village in the countryside near Shanghai. It was there his parents took refuge as they fled from Japanese forces.

When Yahng was five, his family moved to New Haven, Conn. It wasn't the first time in the United States for Yahng's parents, who were educated in the United States and had met upon their individual returns to China. Yahng's father earned his juris doctorate from New York University, while his mother earned a bachelor's degree from Vassar College and a master's from the University of Michigan.

Growing up, Yahng was no stranger to the accounting profession. Rather than practice law, Yahng's father attended night school and earned an accounting degree. The family moved from Connecticut to Kentucky when Yahng was 11 after his father accepted a job as treasurer at Berea College.

Yet despite the paternal influence, accounting was not Yahng's first career choice. He received a bachelor's degree in economics from the University of the South, a small Episcopal school in Sewanee, Tenn., then continued to Emory University in Atlanta, where he earned an MBA with a concentration in marketing. After he graduated, like many young men in the 1960s, Yahng was drafted into the Army.

Two years later, after being discharged, Yahng caught the eye of Crown Zellerbach Corp. at a job fair in Atlanta. "They asked me if I would move to San Francisco, and they didn't have to ask twice," Yahng says. "I threw everything I owned into the back of my 1966 Barracuda and drove out."

Yahng worked at Crown from 1970-76 as a systems analyst and customer service office coordinator. But a chance meeting in 1976 re-introduced him to the possibilities of a CPA career.


While working at Crown, Yahng shared an apartment with a few co-workers. When one of his roommates left, a young CPA named John Benson, a fraternity brother of another roommate, filled the vacancy. Neither man could guess the effect this change would have on their careers.

By now, six years of working at Crown had left Yahng a bit restless and wondering how to achieve the next level of professional success. Benson, working for his father's accounting firm, Benson & Neff in San Francisco, convinced Yahng that accounting could be the path he sought.

"John thought I'd make a good accountant, and it looked like an interesting and attractive career," Yahng says. "I had the educational background from my MBA. So I went to Cal State Hayward, took seven accounting courses in two quarters, and sat for the exam."

After passing the exam on the first try, Yahng started as a junior accountant at the San Francisco office of Hurdman & Cranstoun, CPAs (which has since been acquired by KPMG). He left three years later as a senior accountant and joined Bunn, Coberly & Gane CPAs as an audit supervisor. Yahng stayed until 1981, when he decided to step out on his own and purchase an Oakland-based accounting firm.

Four years later, former roommate John Benson, the man who talked him into taking accounting classes, became his business partner. Together they established Benson and Yahng Certified Public Accountants, better know as BAYCPA.

The firm focuses on taxation and wealth planning and has grown steadily in the subsequent 20 years, and some of the original clientele have become like family. "I still have some of my original clients, though they are a fairly small part of my practice. And I have some children of those original clients as clients now," Yahng says. "Sometimes as a CPA, you're almost like a family member."


In addition to concerns about diversity, Yahng also is focused on the challenges CPAs face today. He knows all about the challenges a sole and small practitioner faces. In fact, it's no coincidence that he became involved with CalCPA in 1981 when he began his practice.

Yahng had been peripherally involved with CalCPA at the beginning of his CPA career, but "like many young accountants today, I was too busy working to really get involved," he says.

"When I initially joined CalCPA it gave me a sense of community, a sense of pride in the profession. I was really impressed with how CalCPA enhanced the professionalism, as opposed to the commercialism, of the profession."

But it wasn't until he set out on his own that the value of CalCPA became apparent, even essential to his professional success.

"In 1981, I got involved with the (East Bay Chapter) MAP committee, mainly for the networking opportunities and the assistance that comes with having a strong network of professionals," Yahng says. "It gave me a network of people throughout the state to refer my clients to and garner referrals and share ideas."


After realizing the benefits of chapter involvement as a MAP Committee member, Yahng's involvement with CalCPA steadily increased.

His focus on developing future leaders can be traced to his work in the East Bay Chapter, where he has been a member of the Adopt a Student, Scholarship and Student Outreach committees. He also was chair of the East Bay MAP Committee from 1988-91; a member of the chapter's board since 1991; and a member of the Taxation, Financial Planning and Nominations committees. Yahng's chapter involvement culminated in a term as chapter president 1998-99.

He has been just as active at the state level. In addition to his work on the CalCPA Council since 1994, Yahng was a member of CalCPA's board of directors in 2000-02, elected vice chair for 2002-04 and first vice chair for 2004-05. He served on the CEO Goals and Accomplishments Committee and was a member of CalCPA's MAP, PFP, Membership, Global Opportunities and Professional Conduct committees. He also has served on multiple task forces.


So, after nearly 30 years as a CPA, where does Yahng see the profession going?

Yahng believes the post-SOX era has its share of pros and cons. The increased regulatory focus on the profession has crystallized the CPA's ethical role. "Andersen and Enron made all of us more conscious of what we're doing, and it made us more conscious of principles-based standards," he says. "It reminded us to use our instincts more, to use the smell test--if it smells bad, then it probably is bad."

But that regulatory focus has the danger of encouraging a robotic adherence to rules, which can be detrimental. "The profession could easily be more checklist-based again," he says. "We could fall into the trap of being more conscious about completing our checklists, than considering why something is on the checklist. I think that's partly what led to the problems that we had in the first place."

Yahng also applauds the AICPA's efforts to set standards for non-publicly traded companies. "The profession may never go back to setting standards for publicly traded companies, but we can certainly help non-public companies in that area."

And Yahng is encouraged by recent polls that suggest the profession's image is more than on the mend. "We never stopped being the trusted adviser," he says, "but new polls show that the hit we took after Enron has all but evaporated. We are once again back up there with the family doctor in terms of trustworthiness and ethics."


Through a series of governance changes, Yahng hopes to make CalCPA's leadership a more efficient and diverse body by identifying those with leadership potential early in the game and encouraging them.

"We will change the scope of the Leadership Development Committee so that it's not only leadership development but leadership identification," Yahng says. "And leadership identification goes down to the chapter level. We need to have assistance from the chapter leaders to identify the future leaders."

He'd also like to expand the number of council meetings to allow CalCPA leadership more time to get to know each other and the issues. Also on his list is to revive CalCPA's Leadership Institute, a series of one-day courses throughout the state aimed at grooming the next line of CalCPA's leadership.

Yahng also seeks to change the way council meetings are run to invoke more interaction between chapter and state leadership.

Through these efforts, Yahng believes that diversity in leadership will be achieved more quickly and offer greater opportunities for every CalCPA member to be heard.


In addition to giving back to the profession, Yahng's community spirit is also strong. He is a member of the board of directors of the Oakland Rotary Endowment and has been president of the Wa Sung Service Club, a local Chinese service club.

Yahng also has been a board member or financial board officer with various local service organizations and charities, including St. Paul's Episcopal Elementary School, the Greater YMCA of the East Bay and the Rotary Club of Oakland.

Yahng and his wife, Sue, have a daughter, Michelle, who recently graduated from George Washington University Law School and is studying for the bar exam. Sue Yahng recently retired as librarian of Piedmont High School. Yahng's son-in-law, Greg Mesack, is a Washington, D.C.-based senior lobbyist for America's Community Bankers.

In his spare time, Yahng enjoys skiing, biking, hiking, fishing, traveling, white-water rafting and playing cards.


Yahng sees CalCPA as a thriving community, offering as many intangible benefits as tangible ones. As evidence, he talked about the recent memorial service for Kurt Fraenkel, a longtime CalCPA member.


"The service was held at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley and half the people at the memorial service were CPAs. Kurt's family selected Spenger's because that's where Kurt went on the second Tuesday of every month to attend the CalCPA East Bay Chapter meeting," Yahng says.

"It just goes to show, CalCPA is much more than a network of professionals--it's a community."

A community strengthened by diversity.

RELATED ARTICLE: Creating Opportunity From Change


Jobs are abundant, the dearth in accounting majors has all but evaporated and accounting is now lauded as the top major for college graduates. Add to that rapid growth at many CPA firms thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley and improvements in the profession's image, and there never has been a better time to be a CPA.

But of course, there are two sides to every story. The business opportunities created by SOX also have resulted in a costly regulatory burden for many companies. The increase in accounting majors hasn't been felt in the marketplace yet, so the clamor to hire CPAs has created a shortage of qualified candidates and left some smaller firms frustrated as they compete to fill positions against bigger firms with more resources.


Still, whether your glass is half empty or half full, I can't help but believe that there has never been a better time to be a California CPA.

And, during this time of great change and opportunity, it is an honor and privilege to serve you as CalCPA chair.

As I begin, I'd like to acknowledge my predecessor's contributions. Paul Regan's integrity and leadership allowed CalCPA to emerge from an unexpected change this past year as a stronger and more efficient organization. The sharing of services and staff leadership between CalCPA and the California CPA Education Foundation already has begun to show results, most significantly in the delivery of improved, streamlined customer services.


Promoting Diversity

I am proud to be the first Asian-American chair of CalCPA. If we want our profession--and our professional organization--to thrive, I think it is essential that CalCPA leadership reflect its membership and the profession.

Over the past 30 years we have made great strides toward increasing the number of women and ethnic minorities in the profession, and I believe CalCPA's membership reflects that, but our leadership does not. So, what can we do?

First, as we identify and groom new leaders, those in leadership must look beyond their immediate peer group and reach out to those who are poised to carry our profession forward in the years to come.

Several years ago, CalCPA conducted a leadership institute. A number of the graduates have since filled leadership roles at CalCPA. I have been impressed with how this experience provided the attendees with a valuable opportunity to grow and develop their leadership skills. During my year as chair, I am dedicated to finding more ways to provide high-quality leadership training for California CPAs, especially those in smaller firms.

Another way for us to attract, identify and develop future leaders of the profession is by making some simple, but powerful, changes to CalCPA governance. By changing the structure and frequency of CalCPA Council meetings, we can provide the opportunity for more collaboration between state and chapter leaders, as well as more opportunities for members to exhibit their leadership abilities.

Reaching Out

All of you are busy and need compelling reasons to participate in the profession beyond your job. The leaders in our chapters are reaching out to underserved segments of our membership and creating the kinds of opportunities you want. For example, the San Francisco and Los Angeles chapters have young/emerging professionals groups that bring together those new to the profession to network and socialize.

Over the past three years we have seen the rebirth of members in business and industry. Not only are CPAs in more demand in industry--the CPA is now considered more essential than the MBA in the finance arena--but also we are seeing an explosion of industry-specific CPE at the chapter level. Over the next year we will explore ways that we can be even more relevant to our industry members.


And if nothing you see appeals to you, tell us what you want. Tell your chapter leadership or staff--or tell me. I plan to visit as many chapters and committees as possible this year to listen to what you have to say. I'd like to hear about your successes and concerns so we can build a stronger profession and professional society.

During the coming year we also will survey managing partners around the state to find out what we need to do so once again they will expect all their CPAs on staff to be CalCPA members.

Get Involved

CalCPA has a strong core of volunteer programs and we want to communicate those opportunities to members.

To promote financial literacy, we have Dollars & Sense workshops, tax call-ins and community-based volunteer opportunities. Also, we will pilot a national program in Los Angeles Oct. 20 with the Department of Labor that focuses on educating business owners about retirement plan options.

Our student outreach program is thriving as more students than ever are considering CPA careers. Opportunities abound for CPAs to visit schools to discuss CPA careers and teach financial literacy skills.

It's going to be an exciting year filled with a lot of change and opportunity. I look forward to working with all of you.

Jerry Ascierto is CalCPA's managing editor. You can reach him at
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Title Annotation:California Society of Certified Public Accountants
Author:Ascierto, Jerry
Publication:California CPA
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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